BOSTON, November 25, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — As the smartwatch market matures, the capabilities of alternative wearables continue to expand. In the years to come, alternative form factors could poach consumers away. Not only could these devices offer added value, they also have the potential to access new biometric data. The wearable technology industry is driven by the demand for more data – but is about to reach maturity in an era of economic contraction. This article summarizes what life might be like beyond the smartwatch boom, with three trends to watch.
Headphones: Listen to our emotions
Apple AirPods adoption has increased tenfold over the past five years, with Bluetooth technology bringing true wireless stereo to the mass market. As with their smartwatch companions, the price point for these hearing aids remains high, and without innovation, consumers may start to turn to cheaper options. However, headphones have one fundamental benefit that wearing them on your wrist doesn’t – they’re close to your brain.
The proximity of the ear to the brain could give more advanced headphones a commercial advantage in the years to come. Metal electrodes used to measure electrical signals from the heart (ECG) can also measure neural activity (EEG). This is covered in IDTechEx’s dedicated report on wearables sensors.
Measurements of signals from the brain can quantify stress, sleep quality and emotional state, and diagnose epilepsy. EEG-integrated headbands are already available for purchase, but these are far less fashionable and are mostly sold as novelty toys. The previous challenge for an in-ear solution was the miniaturization of electronics and noise cancellation. However, in recent years, a number of companies such as Naox Technologies and Kokoon have shown that EEG-integrated hearing aids are feasible.
At the same time, the demand for emotional status data is growing. Advertisers are increasingly turning to EEG for access. For example, it’s commonly used today to rank viewer interaction with Super Bowl ads.
So far, major brands have refrained from incorporating new sensor technologies into their hearing aids. Optical heart rate sensors have been built into earphones for a long time, and while dedicated devices for sports are available, they haven’t found their way into the mass market yet. This is probably because the priority was on improving the audio quality. It’s also because it provides a repeat record available from the watch. In addition, headphones do not offer real-time data visualization.
However, given their unique ability to interpret neural signals, now might be the time for hearing aids to play a more advanced role in capturing user data via EEG. In fact, implantable electrodes are already being used to communicate with exoskeletons to allow paraplegics to walk. So while 2023 might be a bit early to see mass adoption of mind-reading headphones, it might well be time to shift the focus from advances in big-brand wristwear to hearing aids. Consumers unfazed by incremental improvements in smartwatch hardware can limit their spending on new consumer electronics to a pair of more impressive headphones.
Detachable pods and performance analytics: A more personalized approach to wearable adoption
Smartwatches and fitness tracker bracelets currently dominate the activity tracking market, but demand for a more personalized approach could be on the horizon. Much of the utility of our wearables comes from the software that analyzes our movements. However, the raw motion data available from a watch alone has limitations, and the data analysis available from platforms built for athletes also has mass-market benefits.
Hardware is currently restricting the use of watches in contact sports as it is too dangerous. Additionally, wrist-based motion detection isn’t capable of very accurately detecting certain movements associated with some sports — for example, weightlifting or physical strength exercises. A solution proposed for the professional athlete market is the use of detachable pods.
Detachable pods can house the same motion and heart rate sensors as smartwatches, but they’re held in place by pockets in chest straps, underwear, or pants (see the wearable sensor report for more information on these types of sensors). It’s now common to see Premier League footballers and NFL players wearing Statsport or Kinexon chest straps. Similarly, professional golfers and cyclists are adopting whoop bands that can be worn on the wrist or adjusted for insertion into clothing.
For some companies, top athletes have served as a marketing tool for their wearables. As such, the opportunity for enhanced insights into stress and recovery, as well as the ability to use capsules and wrist wear, is beginning to reach a broader market. This trend is likely to continue in 2023, especially since much of the value of this business model is in the software. This allows companies like Whoop to offer a subscription to their platform that includes the hardware. This could make it more affordable for the consumer market that values getting upgraded hardware as standard. In the future, packages aimed at amateur athletes and the broader wellness market will likely emerge. Consumers would appreciate the ability to take a more personalized approach to their fitness tracking, combining detachable pods, watches, performance analytics and data sharing based on their needs.
Headsets and Glasses: Preparing for the Meta-Verse
What lies beyond the smartwatch is largely determined by the future of our interactions with each other and with the Internet. It’s now standard to use a laptop, smartphone and possibly a smartwatch for activity tracking and hands-free communication if desired. But this ecosystem has been the status quo for many years and could be set for disruption.
Phone design has stagnated in recent years, and combined with post-pandemic “zoom fatigue,” there are signs that consumers are hungry for something more immersive.
This is where the concept of “meta-verse” comes into play. The development of augmented reality headsets and data glasses could one day make smartphones obsolete and take smartwatches with them. Wearable biometrics are likely to follow as society shifts to headgear for messaging, web browsing, and gaming.
AR/VR (Augmented/Virtual Reality) headsets already require motion sensors and cameras for eye tracking. Therefore, it is not difficult to envision the integration of dry electrodes across the forehead, which both collect heart rate data and measure neural signals.
This kind of revolution will most likely paint a picture of the world beyond the smartwatch. However, the success of this shift is being driven by advances in display optics that are at least a few years away from reaching mass-market miniaturization levels. In the meantime, hats and data glasses have to be socially accepted. As such, intermediate products (like camera-integrated Ray-Bans) will likely continue to be launched to make them more fashionable. Likewise, gaming headsets can already be seen in a growing number of TV commercials. While they may seem unsettling to some now, society will likely be much more comfortable with them by this time next year.
The ultimate hurdle for headphones, detachable pods, and headsets is balancing data access with visualization and social acceptance. Real-time activity monitoring is a major benefit of wearables. Seeing it live on a watch is a big selling point. This feature will likely see consumers adopting new wearables, depending on connectivity with existing smartwatches. Integration into hardware of the right brand is crucial for social acceptance. The marketing challenge for manufacturers looking to appeal to a broader demographic of consumers, elite athletes and the medical market is not trivial, but it is also beyond the expertise of today’s consumer electronics kingmakers. The smartwatch will likely follow the path of the smartphone and be less impressive but still in demand. The real opportunity lies in the next generation of wearables, smartwatches will have interfaces to meet the demand for new features. This market offers much more space for new players, materials and innovations.
IDTechEx offers an extensive portfolio of technical market research reports covering many aspects of the wearable technology space. These include wearable sensors, electronic skin patches, AR/VR, e-textiles and hearing aids. IDTechEx also has related content dedicated to remote patient monitoring, diabetes management, and printed sensors. All of these reports cover the current status and expected future developments, both in terms of technical capabilities and commercial acceptance. Granular forecasts segmented by technology and application help plan future projects, while multiple company profiles based on primary interviews provide in-depth insights into key players. Also included in the reports are multiple use cases, SWOT analysis, and technological/commercial readiness assessments.
For more details and downloadable sample pages for each report, see IDTechEx website, and to learn more about IDTechEx wearable technology research, please visit www.IDTechEx.com/Research/WT.
IDTechEx guides your strategic business decisions through its research, subscription and consulting products and helps you capitalize on emerging technologies. For more information, contact [email protected] or visit www.IDTechEx.com.
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